Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Spring house to my house: Version 1.0

Our well water is cold all year long -painfully cold. In the days before refrigeration many rural folk had spring houses. A little house would be built right over the well, with the bottom open to the cool waters underneath. My well would be a fine candidate for a spring house. The only problem: it would be a heck of a walk down the hill every time someone wanted an apple or a cool beer.

Hence, the indoor spring house.

The copper coil in the refrigerator is connected to the house water supply line. Any time anyone uses any water at all, cold water circulates through the coil. The water comes from the cold well through a water line buried deep in the ground. From the time it enters the basement until it gets to the refrigerator the line is insulated.

My lovely wife suggested converting the existing refrigerator rather than build a separate cool box. Yes, my wife let me take a perfectly fine functional major appliance and turn it into a glorified ice box. I love that woman. She's as crazy as I am.

What do we do if we are going to be gone a few days and no one uses any water? No problem. The refrigerator is still works. All I have to do is turn it on. Since it would be the only thing running while we are away, the solar electric system should keep up with the power draw.

This is Version 1.0. These things tend to get modified as I go along.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Out of my control

I try not to worry too much about the things out of my control. However, there are many things out of my control that could mess me up big time. Most of the time I try to have at least some response for those things.

Sometimes the screw ups are so freaking big that there's very little an individual can do. In particular, are the politicians messing around with WWIII on purpose or are they total incompetents? I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe their behavior is explained by knowledge of classified information. History, on the other hand, favors the incompetence explanation. It's all fun and games to sponsor little rebellions, move tanks and ships around, and rattle sabers. Then some bozo takes their own rhetoric seriously and it's a for real shooting war.

Just to pick a disaster out of hat, how about currency collapse? They happen. Frankly, I've been expecting one for years, but underestimated the number of financial tricks the money people had at their disposal. Americans don't have a living memory of a total currency collapse. It has happened in the past. Even though our financial system was much less sophisticated, suffering was widespread. That's back when most of us still lived on the farm and grew most of our own food. Everything is so capital intensive these days that I wonder if any sort of formal system will survive.

I could go on and on: environmental degradation, plague, famine, and so on. All big things that can run us little guys over. All pretty much out of our control. We prepare as much as possible, but I've no illusion that my efforts will make a difference.

So why even bother? Two reasons. My efforts, humble as they, are better than nothing. Maybe even enough of an edge to make a difference. The second reason is that I'm living better right now because of the way I live.

Maybe the powers-that-be aren't total incompetents . . . just mostly.


Monday, April 28, 2014

After a month back home

My lovely wife and I have been back home for about a month now. After 6 months away there's a lot to catch up on. Bad weather hasn't helped the process.

Keeping the vehicles running is a big job in itself. We had both running well for less than a day. Then the diesel line on van plugged. After I got that fixed my wife's car developed a loud exhaust. Maybe several months sitting in a frozen block of ice didn't do the car much good?

There are more house projects, but only one or two are very pressing. Barring any major calamities, the end is in sight. Much to my surprise our calendar has few obligations this next week, so there's a chance to finish up. The house is pretty comfortable as it is.

I'm finally getting some time to reflect on the whole semi-nomadic lifestyle. We love both the travel and the stay at home parts. There are elements of both that we don't want to give up. The freedom of being on the road or in a boat is only really understood by doing it for a few months. It takes a while to fully adapt. Travel is about change and seeing new things. Travel is also about the inner journey that happens when someone is taken out of a settled routine.

As much as we love the gypsy life, we aren't ready to do it full time. We really enjoy our family and friends here in New England. Our house is a fun place. One of my granddaughters, when she was six, described it as “a wonderland where anything is possible.” That's kinda cool.

Home is where the massive library is. Electronic books just aren't the same. Home is where the tools are and the experiments happen. Living in a semi-remote area, we have the joy of solitude and quiet. That's something hard to find these days.

We could sell the house and buy a good sized boat to live on but we aren't ready for that. My lovely wife and I really like having a house to come back to. For the next few years we plan on doing the semi-nomadic thing. To make that work we've been simplifying the house, reducing living expenses -focusing on what's really needed and wanted. Our nomadic travels will also be kept simple. If we buy a bigger boat, it won't be much bigger. Small boats have small problems and small expenses.

Our lifestyle requires two different skill sets. The one thing that makes them both work is keeping everything as uncomplicated as possible. After a month back home, that's more clear than ever.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

The minimum wage life, two versions

It is possible to live on minimum wage, but not while working a minimum wage job. Take two people with the same income. One works 40 – 60 hours per week. He has to work 2 or 3 different jobs as no one employer will give him enough hours to qualify for benefits. The second person has the equivalent of a minimum wage income, but doesn't have to work to get his income. His small income may be from a pension, rents, investments, inheritance, or some other source. The key here is that he doesn't punch a clock for that income.

The working man's days are mostly taken up with the necessities of work. By the end of the day he's exhausted. If he's lucky he'll pop something into the microwave and zone out in from of the TV for a few hours before the whole cycle starts again.

The other guy doesn't have any more money, but he has the opportunity for a much richer life. Instead of working for wages he has the time and energy to do things for himself: cook meals, garden, repair cars, bake bread, cut his own firewood, and so on. His days are full, but he's working for himself. None of that work generates taxable income, but it does much to improve his quality of life.

A minimum wage income isn't the problem. The problem is that workers are actually expected to show up and sell they time for such a pittance. Such a waste of human potential.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Taking Turns

It was a good news/bad news sort of day. The garage called and let us know my wife's car was fixed. The bad news is that van decided it needed a rest and would not run.

It had been running poorly on diesel, but as soon as it was switched over to the veggie tank it ran fine. Unfortunately, today it would not run long enough to heat up the veggie tank so I could not do the switch over. Changing out the diesel fuel filter, always a major pain, didn't do the job. The problem has to be somewhere in the diesel lines. Of course, it fails on a 24 degree morning.

Diesel is awful stuff to work with. Last time I messed around with diesel lines I got a lot of it on my clothes. There is no washing that out so the clothes went into a trash bag. You can bet that I'll be wearing my worse clothes when I work on the fuel lines.

Fortunately a friend was able to give my lovely wife and I a ride into town to pick up her car. Later we joined our friends for dinner and finished off the day in a hot tub.

Any day that finishes in a hot tub isn't all bad.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Boat dreams

I find myself dreaming that I'm on a boat again. Then I wake up, it's below freezing with 45 mph gusts of wind. Maybe my subconscious is trying to tell me something?

The lake is still covered in ice and there are still big piles of snow around the house. The ice usually leaves the lake around April 18 – 21. Once in a great while it doesn't melt until May. This might be one of those years. A couple years ago it was 80 degrees here in March. Back then I wondered what the heck I was doing in Florida. Now I'm wondering why I'm not there still. Weather is unpredictable, so we have to take our best guess.

My little sailboat building project is almost free from the ice. A few more warm days I should be able to pull the tarps off, flip it over, and see how it survived the winter. A garage would be nice to have -not for parking cars, but for all the other projects I do.

On the bright side, my lovely wife and I are making headway on our house. The kitchen woodstove is keeping us warm and comfortable, and heating our water. My lovely wife is delighted to be able to take long soaking baths in her own tub.

I do miss life on the water. Once things warm up I'll take the boat out on some big wilderness lakes and disappear for a bit. That'll help. In the short term it looks like I'll only be sailing in my dreams.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bug out vehicle revisited

Who doesn't love the idea of a bug out vehicle? When we think of such a vehicle what comes to mind? Maybe we think of some massive 4x4 truck, with a big winch on the front, monster tires, extra fuel tanks, and loaded with supplies and gear. Maybe some of us actually own such a vehicle.

My camper van, a converted ambulance, comes close to fitting the bug out vehicle description. While not 4x4, it does have massive tires and good ground clearance. There's plenty of room for provisions and gear. It even can burn multiple fuels, diesel, vegetable oil, hydraulic fluid, heating oil, and kerosene. There's a roof rack for a canoe and a heavy duty trailer hitch. It's about as much a bug out vehicle as anything else out there on the road.

That being said, I'm not a big fan of the bug out vehicle concept. What's the purpose of a BOV? Bugging out, of course. The big questions are when does someone bug out and where will they go?

Some folks think the time to bug out is when a disaster is under way, be it natural or man made. As some things are not very predictable, that has some logic to it. Then the BOV's job is to get you and yours out of Dodge to somewhere safer. The problem is that everyone else will want to get out of town too. Roads will be jammed, bridges blocked, and tunnels will be choke points. A 4x4 capable of going off road, and a good route plan just may make escape possible. However, if caught in traffic, it's no better than the family sedan.

Where will you go? Do you plan on living in your BOV until conditions improve. In the case of something like a hurricane, that's a reasonable plan. There's time to get out of town before traffic is too bad. Staying in a campground or National Forest for the duration is a tried and true strategy. If it's a widespread and/or long term emergency, that's a less viable strategy.

Does anyone have the capability to establish a complete comfortable homestead with the gear in their BOV? Is there a place where you can get to that will allow someone to do such a thing? I doubt it. Maybe the BOV is just transportation to your cabin in the woods or other safe place. If that's the case all you need is something that will get you there: family car, motorcycle, bike, shoe leather -no need for a big specialized vehicle.

One of the big problems with a BOV is what will you do with it 99.999% of the time? If it's your daily driver you are paying a huge fuel penalty every day for a just in case situation. (unless you have a free source of fuel like I do) If it's a RV that you take camping on a regular basis, you can justify owning it.

Imagine a real bug out situation, but your BOV is the in the shop. The one time you need it, it's out of order. Better have a solid plan B.

Personally, I'm a big fan of living in your bug out location. That way if anything goes sideways, you don't have to go any where at all.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Motor fuel usage

Trash day is when I take stock on how much motor fuel the van used during the week. Why trash day? That's when I crush up all the 4.5 gallon jugs that contained waste vegetable oil. Most folks think of fuel usage by the amount of money they spend. When your vehicle runs on free waste vegetable oil it is measured in empty jugs.

Part of me hates to throw out all that plastic. On the other hand, they can't be recycled as they contained oil and they are too weak to reuse very often. Most of the time vegetable oil jugs are used once then thrown away. At least these are used twice. The restaurants that give me the oil pour their used veggie back in the original containers.

On trash day it's clear how many of those jugs were poured into the van. This week I threw away 10 empty jugs. That's 45 gallons of veggie fuel usage, plus a couple gallons of diesel. The van's 7.3 turbo diesel is a hungry beast. I would never have that monster if most of my fuel wasn't free and if I didn't use the full capabilities of a one ton van.

It's a good camping vehicle. Most of the camping stuff -the bed, and tables, the 12 volt cooler, water, and other camping things are easily removed. Then it's a big box useful for hauling things. This week it's made a number of trips to move furniture out of a storage unit. Firewood, generators, plumbing, construction materials, were also hauled around. It does the work that my old truck used to do.

True, some of my weekly travel could have been done more efficiently with a small car. The van has to warm up before It can be switched from diesel to veggie. Short trips hardly make the switch over practical. My lovely wife has an old small four cylinder car, but I've been unable to get it running since coming back home. I've finally admitted it's beyond my skills and home tools so the car will be towed to the garage. The car is most efficient for trips around 5 miles, like to the village center.

So let's see. That's 10 jugs of veggie at 4.5 gallons or 45 gallons of veggie fuel. Diesel is running about $4.25 a gallon here. Had I used diesel my fuel bill would have been $191.25. People who have big vehicles that work for a living are not surprised by $200/week fuel bills.

One of the big problems with rural life is the long distances most of us drive. Another is that we tend to haul around a lot of heavy stuff requiring a something more hefty than a Prius. By running vehicles on waste veggie, I've solved my rural transport problem. Over the years tens of thousands of dollars have been saved, helping me live a middle class life on a lower class income.

I keep expecting the free ride to come to an end. The fact that I can still get free WVO in my area is unusual. In most places that's no longer the case. As conventional fuel sources dry up, WVO is in demand for biodiesel. Eventually I'll have to make other arrangements, but I'm not sure what they'll be. Most likely it won't be something that directly replaces my big vehicle with another big vehicle that runs a different free fuel. How often does that happen? (that doesn't mean I'm not looking)

Most likely it'll be a mix of conservation, relocalization, bike travel, and just plain doing without. Of course, I could just move on a sailboat full time and not worry at all about land transportation.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The debt trap

Not for us peasants, but for the big banks and the powers that be.

Let's go back to the housing collapse of 2008. Not exactly happy times. What was one of the big triggers? Balloon payments. People got loans that they could just barely pay. The rates were set to increase in the future. The assumption was that people's incomes would go up and make the higher rates affordable. For most people, that didn't happen. Boom! The bubble burst.

It's just guess work, but perhaps one of the reasons interest rates have been artificially low for so long is that they really can't raise them. What's left of the economy would implode. Of course, keeping rates low has risks too, so the big boys are stuck.

There are lots of loans out there that will never get paid. Student debt is one of big ones hanging over the system. I suspect default rates are going up, but hard numbers are difficult to get. There are rumors, however, that things are really bad.

Credit card debt is very high. When someone starts to have difficulty paying, rates go up, making it even harder to pay.

What's the big threat that creditors hold over people's heads? If you don't pay your bills it will hurt your credit rating. We are supposed to think a bad credit rating is worse than cancer. Here's the thing: what's a credit rating good for? Mainly it's to allow someone to get in even more debt, and they are already having debt problems.

Imagine if everyone just said the heck with it and stopped paying on their loans. Everyone. How long would the system last? The whole world wide financial system could be broken in a week. They should worry about us, not us about them. Why should we be concerned that banks were foolish enough to loan us money? It's their bad business decision, right?


Monday, April 21, 2014

The frost eaters

A few years ago I was hanging around a friend's shop downtown. There was an odd man walking down the sidewalk across the street. He had a weird smirk on his fact and walked with a peculiar stride.

My friend said to pretend we couldn't see him. Okay . . . . I thought. When the guy was out of sight my friend explained. The guy was mentally ill, which is polite speak for bat shit crazy. The man believed that if he ate frost from the refrigerator it would make him invisible. While “invisible” he affected an odd walk. The downtown merchants and residents had learned that when the guy had “the walk” he could be ignored and they would not have to engage him in conversation.

I'm not sure what did to the poor man's mental state. After all, he had proof that eating frost made him invisible as everyone acted like they could not see him. Imagine being that guy's therapist.

Now while it didn't help the crazy person to connect with reality, it made it easier for people to get through their day. A few minutes of make pretend and the problem went away.

The whole play into their delusion thing is a useful strategy for large numbers of “frost eaters.” We can make pretend that politicians matter, that law enforcement has our respect, that the IRS should be feared, and so on. They are all a bit . . . challenged (bat shit crazy). We know how the power game is really played, so pretending to live in a functional democracy is just playing a polite game.

Most of the time it doesn't hurt to humor them and pretend they matter to us. If it gets them to move along so we don't have to engage with them, so much the better. A few moments of tolerating their delusion allows us to then get on with our lives without further interruptions.

Of course, the frost eater was harmless. Dangerous crazy people have to restrained for public safety.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Road not taken

I've spent a lot of winters traveling. Back in the early days, e-mail most often meant dial-up connections. Often it involved carrying a 3.5 inch disk to libraries and private businesses. Does that give some idea of the time period?

My lovely wife had hit the road in October. We had a tent, a canoe, all our gear, and a dog, all stuffed into a Doge Neon. November found us in a cabin on Table Rock Lake in Southwest Missouri. It was 8 miles of twisty hill road to town. Public access to the Internet was at the local drive through liquor store.

I received an e-mail from one of my former college professors. He was sounding me out to see if I might be interested in a adjunct teaching position. The offer was both flattering and tempting. Scholarly life stimulates the mind, is indoor work and there's no heavy lifting. Adjunct professors are at the bottom -the college equivalent of piece work factory jobs. Pay is by the class per semester. The pay is low, but it's a foot in the door. There is also the opportunity to work on a Master's Degree without having to pay for it.

Not too much earlier I'd tried a short stint as a substitute High School teacher. Because I'm male, big and ugly, they gave me all the trouble kids. That was fine. We got along. At first the other teachers gave me the cold shoulder -until I made it clear that I did not want their jobs. Lacking a teaching degree, I didn't expect them to worry, but as it turned out, I was more qualified that some of the full time teachers. While the actual teaching was enjoyable, dealing with the administration was not. Over time it was clear that we'd certainly butt heads. Between that and the poor pay, I gave up the gig.

At the college level it would have been different. Having recently been a student at the college, I knew the players and politics. There was nothing I could not live with. In fact, I got along well most of the people. The ivory tower beckoned.

The temptation passed. My lovely wife and I continued our gypsy lifestyle, eventually making our way to Texas and then Florida and Key West. Adventure won out over greater income and stability. No regrets.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Square

My lovely wife and I went to a public showing of the Netflix original movie, “The Square.” It's a documentary film about the revolution in Egypt, centered around Tahrir Square.

I could have just stayed home and watched it on Netflix, but there was supposed to be public discussion after the film. That part never happened. Maybe it's because only 4 people showed up. Take that as a measure of the public's interest. Of course, the circus was in town. Hard to compete with circuses.

Revolution is a messy business. The old dictator was overthrown and then the army takes over. After elections the Moslem Brotherhood takes power and becomes just as unpopular. People protest in the streets again -the army takes over. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Revolution is one thing. Governing is something else. Coalitions that form against an unpopular ruler fall apart as various groups scramble for power.

The Egyptian mess continues. The best thing that can be said about Egypt is that it isn't Syria. How will it end? Anyone who could feed the population and put people to work would be hugely popular. Easier said than done. This whole business started when the price of basic foods took a significant jump. The underlying economy has only gotten worse, not better.

I'm guessing that eventually people will just settle for anyone who provides stability -not freedom, not justice, not opportunity, and maybe not even bread. I hope I'm wrong.

The film is worth watching to see what revolution looks like from the inside.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Half year away

There's two odd things about being away for half the year. The first is how little some things change in six months. The second is how some things change completely.

One thing about living in a backwater, change tends to come slowly. On the surface most change is extremely gradual. A half year isn't long enough to notice.

Then there are the serious changes. People died while we were away. That's always a shocker. Relationships change, which is no surprise in these stressful times. People move. Kids grow. People tend to change faster than things.

Of course, sometimes I think I'm settled in, then turn a corner and see some old landmark has burned to the ground. Not having lived through these things, they come as a surprise.

My lovely wife noticed a local musician was planning at a local lounge. We love live music and the guy's talented, so we stopped in to listen. The guy came over to talk to us between sets. While we were away he quit music. He sold all his guitars and musical equipment. Just before we got back, he decided to get back into it and bought new equipment. There's a case of someone making two major life decisions that canceled each other out. Had he not said anything, we'd have never known.

One thing that I was warned about is that the friends back home will never truly relate to the other half of our lives. There's so much that can't be fully conveyed. They lack the background unless they do it themselves. Anyway, who wants to listen all day to sailor's tales?

For me, the real horror is to discover how many people who've done exactly the same thing, over and over again, for the last six months.


Signs of winter, thoughts of decay

Nothing like waking up to 3 inches of fresh snow. It's the winter that will not quit. In my travels today I picked up a hitchhiker. He had an enormous backpack and a skiboard. He was on his way to Mt. Washington to ski the headwall. I dropped him off at the Appalachian Mountain Club base lodge and wished him luck.

On the bright side, this cold snap has stopped snow melt, allowing rivers a chance to subside. Even so, flood warnings won't be lifted for another day. If we had one spring without road repair and maintenance, large sections would become impassable. It's only though constant effort that our mountain roads stay open.

That got me thinking. Most people don't realize how fast the works of man can disappear. One year of neglect and the roads have big gaps in them. Eventually the elements destroy larger and larger sections. Before long trees put down roots between the broken asphalt.

Just a few miles from me there used to be a thriving mining community of several thousand people. The miners hit a big vein of water. It became too expensive and dangerous to keep the mine pumped out. There are few clues that the town ever existed: some bits of concrete, a few large old blackened timbers by the railroad tracks, and tree covered mounds in the woods that used to be buildings.

New Hampshire has a number of these village sites where little remains. There were logging towns that cut down all the trees, mining towns that went bust, and then there were the hill farms. During the early days of settlement, many farms were established in the mountains. Cold air sinks, so a farm in the hills could get a couple more weeks of frost free growing season. Too bad the thin mountain soil was soon exhausted.

When western lands opened up, most of these farms were abandoned. There are few remains. Sometimes one can find a cellar hole or an old well. Once the roof on a house fails, it doesn't take long for the rest of the house to fall apart. Departing farmers often burned their houses down before leaving. They'd sift the ashes to recover the valuable nails to reuse.

Is it so different now? Think of all the abandoned houses that are being stripped for their copper wire, pipes, and other valuables. Detroit has lost whole neighborhoods, and they aren't alone. It doesn't happen much in the United States, but in other parts of the world people sledge hammer concrete buildings to get to the metal rebar inside. That's an awful lot of work to recover fairly low quality steel.

Between the ravages of nature and the salvagers, evidence of our civilization could disappear surprisingly fast. Imagine future archaeologists trying to piece together our civilization from the remains of half a toilet seat and the Chicago Picasso.

Soon enough the snow will melt, the sun will warm the land, and my thoughts will also thaw a bit. Maybe I should just embrace the cold, grab some skis, and climb a mountain.

. . . naw, I'll wait for the sun.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Of copper coils and things

The copper coil is wrapped around the stovepipe of the kitchen woodstove. There's a water tank behind the wall that it feeds. The good news is that it does warm the water. The bad news is that it's not quite hot enough for a shower. However, it is warm enough to do dishes without getting frostbite. That's an improvement. I'll let it run overnight and see exactly how warm it gets.

If it's still too cool I'll add a copper loop directly to the back of the firebox and then feed it into the stovepipe coil. One of the dangers of this type of water heater is getting the water dangerously hot. I rather err on the side of caution. The days have been mild, so the woodstove hasn't run especially hot.

The mild weather is knocking down the snow. The warmer temperatures, plus heavy rain, is causing some flooding. My house isn't in any danger, being on a hillside.

There's still snow around my house, but that resource will soon be gone. Resource? You might ask. Indeed. The refrigerator hasn't even been plugged in since we got home. To conserve power, we've been harvesting snow and using it like a big ice box. That has worked surprisingly well. Of course, now that we are “post peak snow,” I have to make other arrangements.

I've been working on a design that will greatly reduce power needs for refrigeration -should it work. If other distractions are kept to a minimum, it won't be long before I post pics of that project.

However, distractions keep popping up. I'm in the process of cleaning out a storage unit. My daughter left a lot of stuff behind when she moved to California. I don't know why she even bothered getting a unit. There's only one thing that she wanted to keep. My lovely wife and I are picking through some of the stuff. We've offered the rest to friends and family. If they don't want anything it's going to be abandoned.

We are well into New Hampshire's 5th season -Mud Season. The yard and driveways are a mess. Once things dry out a bit, the debris from a harsh winter will get cleaned up.

At least I'm not bored.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Nothing is standard

It was a good news and bad news sort of day. The plan was install a heater coil in the woodstove to produce hot water.

The good news is that nothing leaked. Water is flowing through the pipes.

The bad news is that it's not actually producing much hot water.

Now the fun begins. It would have been nice if everything worked the first time. Occasionally that happens. More often than not there's a dialing in period. This one of those times.

When everything is custom built there's plenty of room for little problems to crop up. It appears that something is restricting the convection process. One solution would be to just put a pump in the line and force the water to flow at the correct rate. That's not going to happen, as it complicates what should be a simple elegant system. Eventually I'll work my way through various solutions until it functions to my satisfaction.

The next chance to work on it will be in the morning once the stove has cooled down. I'll make some changes and fire up the woodstove once more. With any luck, that should do the job. My lovely wife has reached the point where she really wants hot water.

It has been a few years since I built one of these wood fired water heaters. Every single one of them has been a little different, depending on the situation and the materials at hand. I'll be an expert by the time time I help someone else install one. There's will most likely work the first time.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Day of rest

Sunday was my day of rest. All my plans and projects have been pushed forward. It wasn't all that hard a decision.

The main project for the day was to install a hot water heater coil on the woodstove. That requires a cold stove. Most of the day we had a mix of rain and snow -not a day to shut down our source of heat.

Monday temperatures are supposed to rise up into the 70s. It'll be back into low 40s on Tuesday, so I've one day to do the job and get the bugs out of the system.

What did I do instead? I took a nap, and it was everything I'd hoped it'd be.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fun filled days

I've been trying to whittle down the project list. Results are mixed. One of the first things I did was to install a complete tune up kit in my generator. However, there was still no spark. Might be a bad coil. Fortunately, I've friends. I loaded up the generator into the veggie van and dropped it off at my buddy's place. He has lots of small engine parts and thinks he can get it going again. In the mean time, he's loaned me one of his generators. That's allowed me to top off the house batteries.

The hot water project is moving forward. I wound a coil around a piece of 6 inch stovepipe. In the morning when the stove is cold, I'll slip it over the woodstove stovepipe and hook it up to my water tank. If all goes well we should have wood fired hot water soon.

My van was running badly and I was afraid it was a clogged diesel fuel filter. Replacing one of those takes at least an hour and is a knuckle busting job. Before doing that, I checked the veggie tank. A piece of French fry had lodged in the fuel line and it only took 10 minutes to find and fix the problem. The van still runs badly on diesel, but there's been a lot of bad fuel delivered to our area. Plenty of diesels are running poorly. Of course, I only run diesel until the engine heats up, allowing me to flip the switch to veggie. On veggie, it runs great. Go figure, my home brew fuel system runs better than fuel from the major oil companies.

The days are getting warmer, melting our snow. My lovely wife and I were invited to my daughter's for some grilled burgers. It's a good sign when it's warm enough to fire up the grill. While we were there we took advantage of their hot tub. Nothing like a good soak in the tub for over worked muscles.

I hope the hot water project goes well. I've a refrigeration project/experiment to do. Then there's my lovely wife's car that won't start. It started earlier, but now it won't. The battery's all charged up, so it's something else. There's evidence that squirrels were living in the engine compartment, so the problem could be something odd.

There's lots of interesting things to do. Sure beats watching the news. Things are crazy out there.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Good decision

Our Florida trip cost a bit more than I'd hoped, mostly because the van needed repairs. On the other hand, in any given 6 month period any older vehicle will most likely have issues.

We saved a lot of money by not heating our house while gone. This past winter was an expensive one in New Hampshire. No matter how people heated their homes, it was costly. Heating oil prices got crazy. I talked to one person who spent $600-$800 every month on propane, and their primary heat source was firewood. Electric heat in NH is even worse than oil or propane. The only ones who didn't spend a fortune heated completely with wood and had their own woodlots. Of course, it takes some time and energy to process all that wood.

I'd rather go sailing.

We did get a taste of winter by coming home at the end of March -snow, wind, and subzero temperatures. Brrrrrrr! There was some firewood at home, and my daughter gave us some from her supply. The other day I spent $60 on pressed sawdust blocks. They are similar to wood pellets used in pellet stoves, but in big blocks for use as a firewood substitute. The blocks are easy to handle, put out good heat, and burn clean. As the snow and ice melt, more of my firewood is now accessible, so we should be fine.

Our plans for next winter are to stay until after Christmas, then head south for 4 months or so. Fall and early winter will have plenty of heating days. Right now I'm thinking of buying a pallet of those pressed sawdust bricks. I'm near National Forest land. For $10/cord they allow people to pick up dead and down trees for firewood. It's not that hard to pick up a couple cords that way. There's probably another cord or more right on my land from storm damaged trees. It was a tough winter. The prudent thing to do would be have enough wood piled up for 2 years, but that has rarely happened.

One thing about winter, there's always another one coming.



These are some of the odd things I have to deal with when visiting the world of money and finance. Imagine trying to do business at a bank, but you lack tax returns for the last several years. Then you gather together alternative records to prove you actually have an income and the lack of tax filing is truly legal. Just for grins and giggles, try and explain a budget that has almost nothing for utility bills and extremely low fuel bills. Then there's the fact my income is tiny, but I've a home on a lake. Let's say that you once had all this stuff sorted out with a local credit union, but they were bought out by a bigger institution.

These new people don't know me.

Last summer I had to deal with the new owners while trying to sort out my finances so that I could travel all winter. It wasn't pretty, but I cobbled together something that worked. Some things that could safely be paid automatically were put on autopilot. A few things were handled on-line while traveling. Once in a great while I even sent out the occasional check through the mail. Sometimes it took weeks, but eventually my snail mail caught up with me. That is, if I've actually got it all now.

Now that I'm back I'm talking to these business people in person. I always have better luck in person. I'm too big throw out of an office. My goal is to simplify my finances even more, and to have it done before the end of the summer. With that goal in mind, with any luck, I should succeed by Christmas.

Some people get excited about money. I'm not one of them. The pursuit of little green pieces of paper or numbers on a bank statement doesn't interest me. Unfortunately, that's how the world works so I have to make at least some minimal effort to work within (or around) the system. Apparently those financial people want to at least pretend to care about all this crap.

If they really understood I was all about, they'd probably no longer be working in finance, so I've got to be careful. They have to be just educated enough to allow me to do the things I want to do, but no so educated that they run off and live in a cave in the desert. The balance is a delicate one.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Potential energy future

There are some really promising developments in the field of alternative energy. In some markets, solar and wind are more competitive than fossil fuels.

The price of installing alternative energy is often times higher than the cost of the equipment. That tells me that those who can do it themselves can reap huge savings. How much of the job one is allowed to do depends on local and state laws. Even so, there are often work arounds, even in highly regulated areas. The problems are no longer technical but political -and politics can change.

Big energy companies have a business model that hasn't changed much in decades. It's a highly centralized system with tight controls. Picture a big power plant with power lines radiating out away from it. That makes sense where power is generated in huge plants or by massive hydro dams.

Alternative energy is diversified. For example, the sun shines everywhere. It makes more sense to generate power near where it's going to be used. No high power lines required.

When utilities dabble with alternative energy, they are still trying to do it within the centralized model. They put up massive wind farms and acres of solar electric panels. Then the power is transported across the grid.

Unfortunately, it's the grid itself that makes less and less sense. Transmission losses are huge. Utilities claim “smart grids” are more efficient and will be the solution. It's like putting lipstick on a pig. It looks a bit better, but it's still a pig. Making something that's inherently inefficient slightly less bad just doesn't cut it. Transmission costs are huge, so eliminating long lines is the way to go. Besides, the world has better things to do with all that aluminum and copper.

It's entirely possible that the economics of it will force changes. First to go will be the rural customers. Does it really make sense to run miles of power line for a handful of customers? Of course it doesn't, and if it wasn't for governmental intervention, rural areas would never have been electrified. It doesn't make business sense.

As bad as the numbers are now, just wait until more and more people disconnect from the grid and make their own power. The power lines will be just as long and expensive to maintain, but fewer people will be connected and paying into that system. Utilities know this and want to pass laws that protect their business. To me, it looks like back when the ice business fought and successfully delayed refrigeration. They can't compete openly, so they use their political power instead.

I can imagine a time when power companies retreat back to the cities, where denser populations can be served with shorter transmission distances and less power loss. Localized grids would also make sense from site specific power sources: hydro dams, tidal power, geothermal power, and some wind locations. Moving heavy power users like factories and computer servers near those concentrated power sources would be the logical thing to do.

For most people, for normal power needs, generating one's own power will be the only logical choice.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014


I once spent 6 months doing intensive physical therapy for my back. The physical therapist was very good at what he did and surgery was avoided. Months can go by without me ever thinking about my back at all. Lately it reminded me that I'd better slow down. I've done more heavy lifting in the last week than I've done in months. At one time I'd have pushed myself to keep going. That's how I ended up in physical therapy. Once was enough. My back is just sore enough to remind me of my limits.

As if physical limits were not enough, I've come to the limit of my small engine skill set. The generator that I had such hope for decided to up and die. First I changed the fuel. Then I tore it right down to the points and condenser, but that didn't work either. It just had a new tune up kit put in, so I'm at a bit of a loss. The points looked like they were adjusted a bit too tight, but opening them up didn't do anything either. A friend will be coming over to give me a hand with it. His engine skill set is greater than my own.

The loss of the generator came at a bad time. With rain and cloudy days, my solar electric power is more limited. Some of my planned projects are energy intensive, so they'll have to wait. The generator would have allowed me to just push on.

Maybe there's a lesson here. If I'd slow down when the weather got bad, my back wouldn't have been under so much stress. When I was living on my sailboat I knew schedules were dangerous. I've only been home a few weeks and find myself trying to keep a schedule. On the boat I had to listen to the environment around me to keep from exceeding the limits of boat and crew. I should run my house more like I ran my boat. My back never hurt on the boat.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hot showers and cold beers

Hot showers and cold beers is how I measure civilized living. Cold beers are easy right now. There's still plenty of snow on the ground. I haven't even bothered starting up the refrigerator. Instead, I'm using it like a big cooler. Every couple of days I put a roasting pan full of snow in the refrigerator.

Eventually the snow will all go away, but I'm working on a low energy refrigeration solution. Of course, in a a pinch, I could just plug the darn thing in. It would take a bite of my limited off grid power, but cold beers are cold beers.

How showers . . . well that's another story. At first my lovely wife was happy to have any water at all flow from the faucets. I'm taking plenty of hot showers, but I'm I'm heating the water on top of the woodstove. My lovely wife has put up with that until now. If all goes well, we'll soon have hot water at the turn of a faucet -just like people in the First World. I need some plumbing parts to make that happen, nothing major, but it'll have to wait until our next trip into town. The hardware store list grows ever longer.

All my time is not spent working on the house. There are other demands on my attention. Picking up the loose ends of one's life after a long absence doesn't happen overnight. Then again, how showers and cold beer are important.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Sea friends and land friends

Over the weekend my lovely wife and I connected with some old friends from Maine. We've known them forever. Together we've have a lot of adventures like backpacking trips and wilderness canoe camping. One of the reasons we come back to New England is our connection to our old friends.

However, as much as we've enjoyed our adventures together over the years, we just can't convince them to join us on our sailing trips in southern waters. Day trips on the sailboat up north are fine, but we can't get them south in the winter. Apparently we've gone where they won't follow.

That's fine, really. People have their own lives. Not everyone wants to bum around the coast in small boats. In fact, it doesn't look very likely that any of our friends will turn into coastal sailors. That doesn't mean we like them any less. What it does mean is that we just won't see them half the year.

One the other hand, there are plenty of people out on the water already. Most of them are pretty friendly.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Generator laundry day

Nothing like waking up to fresh snow -in April. Sigh . . .

It was a good day to set up the generator for a test run. The generator fired right up and put a charge in the batteries. Normally I'd wait for a sunny day to do laundry, but might as well put that excess generator power to good use. Using a generator near its capacity is more efficient.

Then there was the darn washing machine. The “no water” alarm kept going off. That made no sense to me as there was plenty of water right up to the washing machine. I did some probing around and discovered flow restrictors in the water inlets. The flow restrictors had picked up a tiny bit of grit and plugged.

Why would there be flow restrictors on a washing machine in the first place? The machine needs a certain amount of water to function. All the flow restrictors did was to slow down the filling process. It used the same amount of water. Perhaps there was some sort of Federal law requiring flow restrictors?

I've got mixed feelings about having a generator in the first place, but northern NH has a lot of cloudy days. Right now I'm using up the left over gasoline from the sailboat outboard. Gasoline doesn't keep very long. It's tempting to convert the motor to run on propane. It would run cleaner, propane keeps a long time, and it's more economical.

Of course, ideally, I'd live within my solar budget. At least I've got the generator option.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Phones and things

Now that my lovely wife and I are back home, I canceled Verizon service for my iphone. The phone had been given to me so I didn't require a contract. It was really handy while traveling, but we don't need it. That's one less bill to pay. Verizon provided good service, but the price was higher than I liked.

We went back to our 4 year old, $10 Tracfone. It's all the mobile phone we need right now. My 7 year old granddaughter was amazed that we share instead of having personal phones. It really wasn't all that long ago when a phone was something mounted on the wall in one's home. Times have changed.

The cell phone bill is gone. I'm totally off-grid so the electric bill is gone. The veggie van has a good supply of free fuel. I'm feeling rich. I don't have any money, but I'm still feeling rich.

Being totally off-grid now, I'm a bit more aware of my power usage. Topping off the batteries is no longer as simple as tripling a switch and pulling power from the grid. For years now I've been buying green coffee and roasting it myself. A friend gave me an electric roaster and I fell in love with fresh roasted coffee. I buy green beans in bulk so the price is right. My current coffee roaster is fading -doesn't put out the same heat as it once did. It also demands a lot of amperage, so that draws down the batteries. We drink a lot of coffee so the roaster is used a lot.

My lovely wife and I are trying to simplify our lives so the roaster had to go. Of course, we don't want to give up fresh roasted coffee. Good thing we don't have to. Our cast iron Dutch oven does a fair job as a coffee roaster. Once warmed up on the woodstove, the green beans are dumped into it. Occasional stirring with a big spoon helps them roast evenly. There's a bit of art to getting the temperature just right, but it's not rocket science. The coffee is every bit as good as it was in the commercial roaster.

Life is full of little adventures and experiments.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Winter stare

The survivors of the northern winter have a look. It's the 1000 yard stare of too much winter. Many look like refugees from a long running catastrophe. I almost feel bad for all those warm sunny days in southern waters -almost.

There's a backlog of stuff to catch up with. After three days of hauling waste veggie oil from local restaurants. I've over 60, 4.5 gallon jugs of veggie oil in my driveway. It's going to take another morning to get all that WVO under cover. Seems like a hassle, but that veggie will replace over $1,000 worth of diesel in my van.

The firewood supply is low. Fortunately my daughter and son-in-law have let me take some from their pile. That has helped a lot. Milder days have also made a big difference. The kitchen woodstove is the heart of the house. It provides warmth, cooking, and hot water.

Before heading south last October, we cut all ties to the local electric company. That saved us months of “meter fees.” Electric companies have fees that get charged even if no electricity is used. As soon as we got back I switched the house completely over to our solar electric system. We've had to make some minor adjustments, but it's working. A bit more sunshine would help, but we aren't suffering.

That being said, I have a generator for backup. The problem is that it's in a friend's shed and that shed is buried in snow. He will be able to get it soon, so I'll have backup power. Rainy days are forecast. It'll be good to have it. That would allow me to catch up on my laundry quicker. I've left over gasoline in my boat that should be used up before it goes bad.

There are all kinds of interesting things to do, so at least I'm not bored.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Well it's about time

It wasn't easy, but my water supply line is unfrozen and the house now has water. The water line was frozen for all of 8 feet. It's never even been close to that bad before. The good news is that none of the plumbing leaked. At least that part of the shutdown went as planned. Having water frees up time and energy for other things -and there are plenty of other things to deal with.

Hauling water, even from the well on my own property, takes time and energy. We are extremely frugal with our water used, especially by American standards, but it seemed I was always hauling water.

It's good to have backup plans and systems. The problem is that every backup is harder than the thing it replaces. If was easier, it would be the primary system. During a disaster more than one system goes down at the same time.

For example, take any sort of major natural disaster. Power, water, waste removal, communications, public safety -just about anything in modern life we take for granted goes away. A well prepared person may have contingencies for the loss of all those things. However, does he have the personal strength and energy to do all of them? Does he have others in his extended group who can pick up some of the slack? That's one reason community is important.

A person's response to the loss of a critical service may depend on the length of the emergency. With my water out of service a lot of my hand carried water was used to flush toilets. If for some reason water service was never coming back a lower effort sanitation system would need to be used. Maybe I'd build a composting toilet or an outhouse.

One bright spot about this little challenge: my lovely wife never really complained. She knew I was doing all I could to fix the situation. Besides, after all that time on a small sailboat, we are living large.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Water works

For those of you who've been curious about my water situation, in short, it's still frozen.

Progress of a sort has been made. I've been running hot water through a 3/8 diameter line and sliding it down the ¾ inch supply line. The hot water melts the ice, allowing the 3/8 line to slide deeper into the supply line. That worked until it hit a 90 degree elbow that's buried underground.

A ¼ inch line spliced to the end of the 3/8 line is just small enough to turn the corner in the 90 degree elbow. Three more feet of supply got thawed out that way. However, I ran out of ¼ line before running out of ice. The supply line has never frozen this deep before, not in 40 years. With any luck, the additional 12 feet of line I picked up at the hardware store should do the trick. If not, I'm going to let nature take its course. It is warming up.

So what am I doing for water in the mean time? I'm hauling drinking water in the waterbricks that I used on the sailboat. That's 4 – 3.5 gallon water containers. Sometimes I fill them at my daughter's. Other times I walk down to my well and fill them at the overflow pipe.

Water for washing, dishes, and toilet flushing comes from melting snow on the woodstove. I even did a small load of laundry in a bucket. There's no shortage of snow. Let's call it making the best of a bad situation.

Tuesday was sunny and the temperature hit all of 50 degrees. Of course, it drops back down into the 20s at night, but that's normal enough for this time of year. Melt during the day, freeze at night. That's great for maple syrup, but we won't really thaw out until it stays above freezing at night.

In spite of these little problems, it's still good to be home.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Papers please

Modern life has its little trials. One of them is keeping paperwork and fees in order. I went down to the town hall to register the van and boat trailer.

There are some advantages to living in a small town. No one was in line. The clerk greeted me by name. We had a pleasant visit while she got the papers in order.

Then it was down to the garage to see about scheduling a state required vehicle inspection. The garage does good work so is constantly busy. Even so, the owner said he could squeeze me in. While checking out my van, we talked about boating in Florida. He'd fished a lot of the areas we'd sailed in. Knowing I'd be in, he'd saved a marine catalog for me.

So on one hand it's a pain to have to deal with these paperwork requirements. On th other hand dealing with good people certainly takes the sting out of it.